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In filing intended to be under seal, U.S. prosecutors ask to transport Maria Butina, possibly to testify at grand jury

Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring with a Russian official to forge bonds with NRA officials, conservative leaders and 2016 presidential candidates. (Video: Reuters)

U.S. prosecutors on Friday asked a federal judge for permission to move Maria Butina to and from jail for ongoing interviews, including potentially to testify before a grand jury, in a filing intended to be sealed that appeared on the public docket for her case.

Butina, 30, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and the wider conservative movement to set up back-channel communications with leading Republicans around the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

As part of her plea deal, she agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

In a seven-page document filed Friday afternoon to a judge, prosecutors said they were making their travel request under seal because disclosing Butina’s movements from Alexandria City Jail, where she has been held since July, “may jeopardize defendant’s safety and may jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”

Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina developed bonds with conservative leaders during the 2016 campaign - culminating in outreach to then-candidate Trump. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde, Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

“The proposed order references defendant Butina’s possible transportation to a grand jury,” which is a confidential proceeding under federal criminal rules, they added.

The request asks to cover movements through Jan. 17.

Butina had previously traveled from the jail in September and October, according to the filing, which says jail officials asked prosecutors to get the court to reauthorize FBI agents to take custody of Butina on the dates prosecutors need her.

A previous travel authorization from Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia expired Dec. 6. Butina’s defense joined the request for a “follow-on order,” prosecutors wrote.

Although the request stated it was being filed under seal, and included a proposed order allowing it to be filed under seal, it was posted shortly before 5 p.m. on the court’s public docket. It remained viewable only briefly, before the online link to the filing was disabled.

Spokespersons for the U.S. attorney’s office in the District and the court did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the apparent error. Butina’s attorney, Robert N. Driscoll, declined to comment.

Butina, the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy as a foreign agent before the 2016 election, agreed to cooperate with U.S. investigators in exchange for consideration of less prison time.

Russian agent’s guilty plea intensifies spotlight on relationship with NRA

One of Butina’s main targets was the NRA — a group she identified in a 2015 memo as an organization that “had influence over” the Republican Party, according to court filings. Her relationships with the group, she wrote, could be used as the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication to the next presidential administration. Butina and Alexander Torshin, a former Russian government official who helped direct her activities, according to descriptions in court filings, used their NRA connections to get access to GOP presidential candidates.

Court documents indicate Butina also worked closely in her efforts to advance Russia’s interests with a Republican Party consultant, with whom she had a romantic relationship after they met when he visited Moscow in 2013. The operative, previously named as Paul Erickson, is a longtime GOP political adviser from South Dakota who managed the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan.

His lawyer William Hurd said in a statement this week that Erickson “has never done anything to hurt our country and never would.”

Read more:

Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiring to act as an agent of the Kremlin

Guns and religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin’s Russia